Large quantities of wine do strange things to people. Even if they don’t drink. (Is there such a thing as secondary drinking? I am now firmly convinced that when wives see their husbands drink, some of the heady fumes from a beaker full of the warm South, full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, with beaded bubbles winking at the brim, enter their brains; and the sight of the purple-stained mouths of their husbands coming up for breath after a deep draught acts on their wits like catnip on a cat. They lose control over what’s going on – or maybe, it just seems like it: after a bottle of the good stuff, I am not in any position to be a good judge of such matters).
The other day, during such a wine-drinking session with my brother-in-law, I heard this strange claim from his wife – “you don’t get fish in Goa; when I went there, I looked all over Panjim for fish, but couldn’t get any.”
Something cut through the beaded bubbles in my brain, and I gently probed this serious charge against the fair name of Goa. Had she gone out looking for rohu by any chance? or perhaps hilsa (“ilish” to us Bengalis) or bhetki? In which I can well believe that she was disappointed and bitterly so. What’s the point in having such a large quantity of water all over the place and no rohu, hilsa, papda, koi and other such delicacies?
No, she said, she was just looking for fish to buy and cook, and couldn’t find any. Any fish would have done, and she and her family enjoy surmai, rawas, and particularly love paplet. Was it, I asked, by any chance, three o’clock in the morning when she had this unquenchable urge to buy fish? No, it wasn’t that either. It was the time for elevenses, when the rest of us are stuffing ourselves with light snacks, and our goodly wives are out stocking up on victuals preparatory for the holy ritual of cooking lunch. My sister-in-law spent nearly two hours late one Wednesday morning scouring Panjim from end to end, looking for fish to buy and cook, without success.
I don’t pretend to explain this. Maybe aliens had descended and defished the little state that fateful Wednesday. Maybe she wandered through just those lanes of Panjim which are not populated by vendors selling fish – I am sure such places do exist even in Panjim; you could spend an hour in Kolkata wandering through lanes without sighting a single shop selling mishti doi.
Or maybe she herself had been partaking liberally of the vintage that hath been cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth, tasting of flora and the country green, dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth.
I don’t pretend to explain this. It needs a writer with a powerful imagination and superlative skills to make this into a gut-wrenching novel, entitled perhaps “Fishless in Goa.” Something tells me the late Aldous Huxley would have been just the right man – look what he did with John Milton’s lines:
… Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves …